Mali is one of the world’s poorest countries, and is ranked 182nd out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index drawn up by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Half of the country’s population is illiterate, and Mali is the country in the Sahel belt that is most affected by instability. Millions of people have been driven from their homes since 2012 as a result of uprisings and ongoing ethnic conflicts. Developments are moving in the wrong direction, the security situation is even worse than when the rebellion began, and instability has now spread from the northern parts of Mali to the central parts of the country.
The Norwegian funding will be channelled through the school meals programme run by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Mopti.
"Norway is supporting school meals programmes in several countries, and I am pleased that we can now doing so in Mali. It is the most vulnerable children who tend to get left behind in crisis situations. Providing school meals not only helps to ensure that more children are sent to school, it also improves their health and promotes greater equality between boys and girls. School meals programmes also increase turnover in the local food market, which in turn promotes development at the local level," said Mr. Ulstein.
Education is one of five main priorities in the Government’s development cooperation policy. Norway is working to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education. School meals programmes are an important part of the Government’s education efforts, and the importance of these programmes is highlighted in Norway’s action plan on sustainable food systems, which was launched this summer.
While he was in Mali, Mr Ulstein met representatives from a wide range of partners working in the field of education, such as UNICEF, Save the Children, Education Cannot Wait and the Strømme Foundation, as well as WFP.
"As many as 30 % of children in Mali are stunted as a result of malnutrition among children under the age of five. Stunted children have a low height for their age, and may suffer from impaired cognitive development for the rest of their lives. This situation must be addressed if Mali is to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Promoting stability in countries like Mali and improving people’s lives so that there is less need for them to flee their homes are important policy objectives for the Government. It is particularly meaningful for me to visit Mali and see with my own eyes what our partners are doing in this part of Africa," said Mr. Ulstein.
Norway's support for school meals is also important for the transition from acute humanitarian aid to long-term development assistance in Mali. It will also help to make Mali better equipped to tackle humanitarian crises in the future.
Mali has been an important partner country in Norwegian development cooperation since the 1980s, and it is a key partner in Norway’s efforts in the Sahel region.
During the three days he spent in Mali, Mr. Ulstein met a number of leading figures, including President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, the Minister of Agriculture, and the Minister of Education. He also met the leaders of the UN stabilisation mission in Mali, MINUSMA, and ended his stay in the country with a visit to the Norwegian contingent serving with MINUSMA.